Rubman Ardon Chinchilla, a roofer and father of three who has lived illegally in the United States for decades, used a phony immigration document to get a Florida driver’s license, a crime agents say was organized by a con man posing as a government officer.
Chinchilla was one of more than 20 undocumented immigrants arrested a few months ago for using a specific federal form — known as an “Order of Supervision” — to prove to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that he was allowed to be in the United States.
But a Miami federal judge has now thrown out criminal charges against Chinchilla, saying there’s no actual law that says the form can even be used to prove an “authorized stay in the United States.” It’s a highly technical legal argument, but it’s opening the door for the others arrested in the sting to beat their cases, and maybe even stay in the United States.
The decision was made earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, in court filings this week, said it will appeal the decision.
At least one other defendant is now trying to use Bloom’s decision to get his own case dismissed. Wilmer Jeovanny Gutierrez Nunez, who ran a plastery company and was a youth soccer coach, is asking another federal judge to dismiss his indictment on the same grounds.
His lawyer, Bob Pardo, filed the request last week to U.S. Judge Robert Scola.
“We were pleased to see Judge Bloom’s decision, however it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation,” Pardo said on Tuesday.
The criminal probe into the fake orders was conducted by agents from Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, and the Identity, Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force. The task force, run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is a nationwide effort to crack down on document fraud that “may enable terrorists, other criminals and illegal aliens to gain entry to and remain in the United States,” according to the agency.
Investigators say the “mastermind and ringleader” of the scam was a Cuban-American resident named Valois Nuñez, who posed as an immigration agent and charged undocumented workers $2,000 for the bogus orders.
Court documents say Nuñez used several aliases and “pretended he was an immigration officer, sometimes carried a law enforcement badge and was seen with what looked like a government identification card.”
He asked undocumented immigrants to provide birth certificates and passports, photos and their personal details, even having them put their fingerprints on the forms. He also instructed them to go to specific DMV branches. Sometimes Nuñez accompanied them to the DMV to turn in the forms, federal prosecutor Yisel Valdes wrote in one court motion.
Immigrants who used Nuñez for papers often referred others to him, and helped him broker the deals. More than 20 illegal aliens who purchased the orders of supervision from Nuñez or his ring were arrested by the feds starting in December.
Chinchilla never dealt with Nuñez directly, but rather with a woman who claimed she was his legal assistant, according to the defendant’s lawyers. His legal team is criticizing the U.S. government for going after the undocumented immigrants who they say were simply trying to get licenses so they could work lawfully.
“They are being conned by these people,” lawyer Elan Baret said of Nuñez and the others. “The government, instead of focusing on the people who take advantage of these desperate immigrants, they arrest the victims.”
Chinchilla, 38, of Fort Lauderdale, was indicted on two counts of violating a federal law that forbids using documents “prescribed by statute or regulation” as “evidence of authorized stay” in the country.
Baret and attorney Nicole Sanchez challenged the indictment, saying that there wasn’t any actual law or regulation that allowed for the relatively common form to be used at the Florida DHSMV. As proof, they pointed to a 2013 case in which a California appeals court threw out the conviction under the same law for a Chinese man who got two driver’s licenses while living in the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
“It’s a complex argument, it really is,” Sanchez said.
Federal prosecutors argued that the Florida DHSMV published a “table” of documents allowed to establish a “lawful presence” in Florida, and it includes the Order of Supervision. Bloom rejected the argument, saying the list published by the DHSMV “is not a statute or regulation.”
If Bloom’s decision stands, and Chinchilla remains conviction free, his lawyers believe they might be able to get him legal papers.
The reason: His three children were born in the United States and are citizens.